Book choice for June 2010

A Kind of Intimacy [suggested by Jo Jackson]

front cover

Annie is morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful. She narrates her own increasingly bizarre attempts to ingratiate herself with her new neighbours, learn from past mistakes and achieve a ""certain kind of intimacy"" with the boy next door. Though Annie struggles to repress a murky history of violence, secrets and sexual mishaps her past is never too far behind her, finally shattering her denial in a compelling and bloody climax. A quirky and darkly comic debut - giving readers a glimpse of a clumsy young woman who has too much in common with the rest of us to be written off as a monster.

Jenn Ashworth's debut had me hooked from the first page. In Annie, Ashworth has created one of the most interesting, mysterious, endearing but at the same time terrifying characters I have ever had the uncomfortable pleasure of encountering in a book.

There are times when I felt that I simply wanted to hug Annie and make it alright. Tell her that everything's OK and that she IS beautiful. I balk when I read that sentence back, too, but that is what Annie does to me... I had that feeling a lot reading this novel, and each time I had it it made me feel uncomfortable, sensing that Annie was more than she seemed, feeling inadequate and arrogant: my hug wouldn't be enough, and would I be able to give it, and would I be able to cope with the consequences.

Ashworth really keeps her cards close to her chest, maintaining mystery and surprise throughout, revealing pieces and dropping hints of the fullness of Annie's past, the horror of her present, past and future.

This book is a love story of sorts, a crime novel of sorts, but most of all it is a tender and compassionate portrait of a lonely young woman, emotionally battered and psychologically disturbed. [review by colin j herd on amazon]

About the Author

See Wikipedia, or read Jenn Ashworth's blog, or visit her website (which was down when I tried to visit).

 

Shortlisted for this month

Book selectors can bring one, two or three books for selection, although it's usual to bring three. This month, Jo's other suggestions were:

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Dutch painter Vermeer has remained one of the great enigmas of 17th-century Dutch art. While little is known of his personal life, his extraordinary paintings of natural and domestic life, with their subtle play of light and colour, have come to define the Dutch Golden Age. The mysterious portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has fascinated art historians for centuries, and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centres on Vermeer's prosperous household in Delft in the 1660s. The appointment of the quiet, perceptive heroine of the novel, the servant Griet, gradually throws the household into turmoil as Vermeer and Griet become increasingly intimate, an increasingly tense situation that culminates in her working for Vermeer as his assistant, and ultimately sitting for him as a model. Chevalier deliberately cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style in homage to Vermeer, and the complex domestic tensions of the Vermeer household are vividly evoked, from the jealous, vain, young wife to the wise, taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic, but Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist in its tail. Chevalier acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study of the Dutch Golden Age, The Embarrassment of Riches, and the novel comes hard on the heels of Deborah Moggach's similar tale of domestic intrigue behind the easel of 17th-century Dutch painting, Tulip Fever.[Jerry Brotton on amazon]

See also Wikipedia, and, for the movie, the official website.

About the Author

From Tracy Chevalier's website:
I was born in 1962 and grew up in Washington, DC. I have a BA in English from Oberlin College, Ohio, and an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. I have lived in London for over 20 years, and am married, with one son. I was a reference book editor for several years before turning to writing full-time. My second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award. It has sold almost 4 million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

She also has a Wikipedia page.

Shantaram

Shantaram

Have you ever been browsing in a bookstore, picked up something you liked the look of, read the first page and been unable to leave without buying it? That is how I stumbled across Shantaram, one of the most compelling books I have ever read.

Based on a specific period of the author's life (mainly set in Bombay)it covers everything from philosophy and ethics to underworld crime and war. We follow the author as he establishes a free health clinic in a slum, does time in an Indian jail, and goes to war in Afghanistan. It is hard to feel anything but completely attached to the main characters even when they may act in ways that we may not neccessarily approve of.

At a little over 900 pages it may look like a long hard slog but I promise that from the first page you'll be desperate to keep going. Apparently the film rights have already been sold to Johnny Depp and the author, Gregory David Roberts, is in the process of writing a sequel that continues the story of his life.

An absolutely captivating story - I eagerly await the next installment. [nic on amazon]

Wikipedia entry.

About the Author

Some brief but tantalising biog notes on his website or you could try his Wikipedia entry.

 

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